|Gonzaga Journal of International Law||
Cite as: Jared Levinson, “Please Send Help”: The Plight of Refugees from the Crisis in the Maluku Islands, 4Gonz. J. Int’l L. (2000-01), available at http://www.gonzagajil.org/.
“PLEASE SEND HELP”: THE PLIGHT OF REFUGEES FROM THE CRISIS IN THE MALUKU ISLANDS
For many years, Christians and Muslims lived in peace in the Maluku Islands in Indonesia. But the economic crisis plaguing Indonesia has led to violence between Christians and Muslims. According to World Bank figures, 50% of Indonesia’s population lives on less than $2 per day, and 20% of the Indonesian people live on less than $1 per day.
Fighting between Christians and Muslims has led to the exodus of refugees to nearby islands. During a recent visit to Monado, North Sulawesi I had an opportunity to visit two Christian refugee camps. Monado is a predominantly Christian city. Seventy percent of Monado’s population is Christian. Only 30% of Monado’s population is Muslim.
A local protestant religious teacher, Sukamto, invited me to visit two refugee camps aided by his church. One camp housed 660 people, 200 of whom are children. The second camp housed 573 families totaling 1720 refugees. Sukamto estimates that there are 300,000 refugees who have fled war torn areas in Indonesia. Sukamto believes that the Indonesian government has “underreported” the number of refugees fleeing the fighting. Sukamto stated that there have been 30,000 deaths.
Life is hard for the refugees. Most of the refugees have lost spouses, children, or other close relatives to the violence. In one camp six children had lost both parents and they are now cared for by their grandparents. The day after I toured the first camp, a 20 year old woman committed suicide by igniting herself on fire. The young woman was despondent over the death of her husband.
The Indonesian government has provided some old government buildings which are used as refugee centers. The refugees live in small plastic and cardboard tents that are stacked side by side through the camp. Dortje, the director of the first camp I visited, stated the biggest hardship was meeting the basic needs of the refugees. Dortje said she was “struggling” to meet everyday needs such as food and water. The residents of the camp had to walk over a large hill carrying buckets of water back to the camp.
This problem was solved when a church group from Alaska drilled a well in the center of the camp. The Indonesian government has provided some limited food assistance in the form of rice. But the directors of both camps agreed that the government had not done nearly enough to aid the refugees. Both directors concluded that the government had failed to deliver all of the promised aid. In an effort to earn money to pay for their survival many men from the camps leave during the day to work as laborers.
Medical care is provided by a doctor who is himself a refugee. NGO’s have provided some medicine. A local church provides vegetables and noodles. The local church also holds worship services for the refugees.
One major problem is providing education for the children in the camps. Children receive primary school education, but the camps are not equipped to educate the children in higher grades. In order to receive education beyond primary school, children had to be relocated far away from their parents. Another issue is money. The refugee children cannot afford to pay for school uniforms and books.
Despite the hardships facing the refugees, there is a feeling of community in the camps. Many refugees I met were warm and friendly. This spirit of community was noticeable in the behavior of the children. I brought a bag of candy to give to the children. Each child was very careful to take only one piece of candy. When one child took two pieces of candy the other children indicated to him that he should only take one piece of candy. This attitude of sharing and concern for each other was a quality that was seen throughout the camps.
The situation faced by the refugees can be seen through the eyes of Min, a refugee at the second camp I visited. Min described the frightening violence encountered by these people. Min was at home when the electricity was shut off and gunfire was heard throughout her village. The residents of the village fled in fear to the jungle. Min and her husband, a pastor, were lucky. A young man rescued them after two hours in the jungle. The young man took Min and her husband by boat to Monado. In the village Min fled, her home was burned to the ground.
Min and her husband have lived in the camp for eighteen months. Min said she would like to go home but she is afraid of being harmed. Indonesian government officials have asked refugees, like Min, to return home. But the government will not guarantee their safety or offer funds to rebuild their homes and churches. When I asked Min what she would like to occur, she replied “I don’t know how, just leave to the lord to arrange our lives.”
When I asked Dortje, the director of the first camp, if she could send a message to the international community, what would be the message? Dortje stated clear and simple, “Please send help”.